Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

I've been finding stray bits of information here and there about Thanksgiving - or giving Thanks or Gathering Day.  It seems that everyone seems to have a day of Thanksgiving which I find positive.  Generally I get a random thought and then things start popping up - what Carl Jung called synchronicity. Because of all the thoughts on giving Thanks I found myself wandering around getting distracted from actual artwork this week.

 I started rereading some poetry which is actually slow going for me. Often I get lost in the rhythm and rhyme of the thing and lose the trains of thought.  (It's why I read them out loud in the bathtub - I do better hearing it.) One of the poems I thought to include here today even though it's not particularly a Thanksgiving poem.  (Well, I think for me it is.)

It's by Gerald Manley Hopkins,(1844-1889) a British poet who converted to Roman Catholicism, studying to become  a Jesuit priest which caused him a considerable amount of conflicting feelings about his poetry, himself and his beliefs. After reading of the death of 5 nuns aboard a ship he began writing again but his poems weren't released until after his death in 1889.  He is most famous for what is called sprung rhythm.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


He's unique in that he's considered a modern poet because of this sprung rhythm which is closer to Anglo-Saxon and early English poetry rather than the structured meter in regular poetry.  It has to do with the stress of the first syllable of a foot.  Hopkins was strongly attracted to language and studied Old English, considering it a vast improvement to the more modern polyglot language.  He also was influenced by Welsh poetry with it's use of similar sounds, the same sound repeating several times in a line.  His poetry is best when read out loud (great bath tub reading for me).

Most of Hopkins work was published after his dead by his best friend Robert Bridges, who was poet laureate of England.  The few poems that exist before the Jesuit days seemed to have been saved by Bridges.  Hopkins had sent them to him. 
So that is my Thanksgiving gift to you - May you find joy in what is around you.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I'm making myself get out to exercise in small doses.  So today I picked up the camera and went looking in the backyard to see what survived the drought and neglect.  I used to have a garden.  Somewhat chaotic - like me.  Squirrels would tear out the little tomatoes, take a bite and decide green tomatoes just weren't tasty.  Everything ate the chard.  The herbs did well until the heat and then they sank into maintenance. 

sage - close up
So I wasn't expecting a single thing.  Surprise, surprise!  Nature is hardy.  My garden or culinary sage is going great guns!  I think it's the Biedermeister variety.  Large leafed and tolerant of the high heat, high humidity we have in the summer.  It's thriving.   A tiny bit of it got sacrificed for dinner tonight but I think it will survive.

Then the rosemary (three different kinds) is also thriving.  It's happy as pie in what I used to call the Mediterranean garden since it rarely got watered was somewhat rocky and very sunny.  Someone once told me that the Texas Hill Country is very similar to the Mediterranean area.  I can agree based on the herbs here.  The rosemary and the sage grow side by side.  I also found a tiny plant of Salvia Greggii - which isn't a bit culinary but has nice flowers.  It didn't do so well but I found it and some remains of the German Irises still holding on. 

I think Rosemary remains my favorite herb.  I really love it.  Earlier this summer, I had cut some for cooking and left it in a cup of water on the sink and it seems to have rooted.  I'm going to try to transplant it into a pot and see if it grows.  The whole yard could fill with rosemary and I wouldn't mind in the slightest (The bees would like it as well)      Besides these leftovers I had various introduced plants... or what I I could refer to as the birds garden.  Most of these have come from seeds left by the birds.      I love the lantana and it will bloom until the very last minute.  Somewhere I have the paler variety but I love the brightness of the blooms so much.    

  We also have a wild grape that a neighbor shares with us.  It's never produced grapes but does have blooms.  This year I really thought it had died but no I found small branches with grape leaves growing.  It trails along one of the fallen trees we've never cut down.  I was sitting on one when the resident woodpecker started complaining I was out and about.  I hadn't seen him be so active and quite so vocal before. 
Among plants I didn't find a good place to snap a photo were Wild petunias and Pigeonberry which does very well in our yard.  Pigeon berry reminds me of dock just smaller and tinier. 
I did find a really nice set of tiny little amaranth - I am not certain what kind it is but the sun really lit it's spire.  I found several small colonies.  When I plant garden amaranth it just won't grow but the wild variety does well in my yard.  Not certain exactly why.         

wild amaranth

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Queen's Wreath and Cactus

I decided to walk a bit outside today as I was becoming stir crazy and I hadn't yet been on crutches outside.  Hopefully the crutches won't be around too terribly long but the pain in the bionic leg was getting a little strong. (Hence the slightly crabby entry about unemployment from a few days ago)  I decided to take my little digital camera and wandered across the street to take photos of the neighbors cochineal-ridden cactus and Queen's Wreath. 

I hadn't seen Queen's Wreath until I moved to San Antonio when a teenager.  There is was called Queen's Crown, which seems to be either a family thing or a local thing (It appears to be more local, as one of the web sites I looked at had people from San Antonio and Sequin calling it that).   Up here it's and from what I could find on the Internet it's called Queen's Wreath or Coral Vine.  The Latin name of it is Antigonon leptopus.   It's a beautiful vine covers everything and is pretty drought tolerant.  I'm going to try to take some cuttings and root them for our fence over here.  Bees love it as well as butterflies.  The tubers are supposed to be edible which I'd be willing to try if I could dig right now.  It's got a bunch of other names and in some states is considered an invasive weed.  Since it's a native of Mexico I imagine it crept up here on it's own or people planted it and it naturalized.  I've only seen it in older neighborhoods but not in the wild.   On a side note, a relative of this plant shows up in a Miss Marple story by Agatha Christie.  The name of the exact mystery escapes me.

The white fuzzy stuff on the cactus isn't mold as one of my neighbor thought.  It's a Cochineal bug see this link
It makes a really nice red dye.  I'm gonna go ask to get some.  I've dyed with it before.  It makes a really intense red dye on the blue side.  (Not a tomato red but more of a magenta red.  You have to be careful when picking it off some cactus.  It the cactus seems to have thorns they hurt when they stab you. (Personal experience).  There is a related bug that is used for the same purpose in Europe called kermes.  The bug makes a cottony spot to hide or keep cool but generally people think the cactus is moldy. 

The last picture is a cactus tuna or fruit.  They also can be eaten or turned into a dye.  You get a pretty tasteless pink jelly that is very sweet (from the sugar more than anything).  I don't particularly care for the jelly.  I have never eaten it fresh.  you have to be really careful when pulling them off since the tunas have tiny blond prickles that hurt like crap if you get them on you.  A lot of people singe them off over a gas burner or put them in a colander and rise the hell out of them.  Prickly pears are also called Opuntia and there are a lot of varieties of them.  This particular one is the more ornamental spineless variety but it still has the tiny prickles.